- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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Within minutes of being hit in the head by a screaming Alex Rodriguez line drive, paramedics were stabilizing David Huff’s head and neck and securing his body to a stretcher with heavy straps.
Soon, he would be rushed to New York Presbyterian Hospital, a CT of his skull taken, held two hours for observation and subjected to tests ever 6-8 hours for the next two days to determine the level of damage, if any, the shot caused to his nervous system.
But the real test of how resilient the 25-year-old Cleveland Indians pitcher is may have been passed as soon as Rick Jameyson, the Indians assistant trainer, reached the mound.
“The first thing I told Rick was, this is my brother’s number, call him, he’s probably freaking out,’’ Huff said in the Indians dugout before Sunday’s game with the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. “It was pretty funny because I actually corrected myself. I forgot to give him the area code.’’
Everything seemed pretty funny the day after, although it was no laughing matter when the third-inning liner off A-Rod’s bat smacked into the pitcher’s left temple and careened on a fly into right-field, leaving Huff face down and motionless on the mound and Rodriguez kneeling in apparent prayer on the Yankee Stadium infield as a hushed crowd watched, fearing the worst.
And yet, the terrifying scene looked a lot worse than it was. According to Indians trainer Lonnie Soloff, the fact that the ball travelled as far as it did after impact was actually a positive sign. “if the ball hits the head and juts plops down, it usually means the skull has absorbed most of the blow,’’ Soloff said.
Instead, A-Rod’s liner struck a scary-looking but comparatively glancing blow. “Never saw it coming,’’ Huff said. “I remember everything. It was a changeup down and away and A-Rod hit it right back up at me. If I had seen it I probably would have caught it. And honestly, I didn’t feel a thing. I knew the side of my head hurt, but it wasn’t that bad.’’
Huff removed his ballcap to reveal a slight swelling hidden beneath thick, dark hair. “It only hurts if I scratch my head or something,’’ he said.
That is why, according to Rodriguez, Huff had planned to surprise him at the batting cage this morning with the following question: “Is that your best shot? Is that all you got?’’
“And I would have told him, ‘Yeah, that’s all I got,’’’ Rodriguez joked.
The two could laugh about it today because so far, it appears Huff has come through a pitcher’s worst nightmare relatively unscathed. This morning, he underwent another neurological exam to be compared with a baseline exam made in spring training but so far, shows no signs of even having suffered a concussion. There is even a possibility he will make his next start.
“I don’t even have a headache,’’ Huff said.
Rodriguez, clearly shaken by the incident when it happened, left Yankee Stadium hurried after the game trying to catch Huff at the hospital. En route, he was told by Yankees PR to turn back, since Huff had been discharged and in fact had arrived back at the ballpark in time to see the Indians complete their 13-11 come-from-behind victory.
“I wanted to leave earlier but we were just taking the lead when I was ready to go,’’ said Huff, who left the game with his team trailing 3-0. “You know how superstitious ballpayers are. I figured it might be better to stay where I was so we could score more runs.’’
Huff and Rodriguez eventually spoke by phone last night, which gave Huff the opportunity to run his lines past A-Rod. “We had a good conversation,’’ Huff said. “I was trying to get him to laugh, to lighten the mood a little, because he was pretty emotional about it.’’
A-Rod acknowledged his fears as he saw the ball strike Huff. “There are 55,000 people there but only one knows how hard you hit it,’’ he said. “That one was really flush. I literally saw the ball going to his head in slow motion. It sounded like it hit a brick wall.’’
The sight had to be even more horrifying for Huff’s family-- his dad, Tom, mom Pat and brother Tim – who had made the trip from California to see him pitch. But all in the park breathed a sigh of genuine relief when Huff flashed a thumbs-up as he was carted off the field to a waiting ambulance.
“It was probably better that they were here rather than 2,000 miles away,’’ he said. “The Yankees did everything to make sure they got up to me at the hospital right away.’’
Earlier in the day, Huff and his brother, who had pitched in college, had a catch on the field, scooped up some Yankee stadium infield dirt and took a tour of Monument Park. “It was unbelievable,’’ he said. “A great experience.’’
Maybe even miraculous.